The Effects of Fatherless Children

  • Kelli McClintock
  • Something I wrote in high school for a class I can't remember now.


    Nowadays the cause of being fatherless is not just the death of the father, but numerous divorces and separation between couples with children, which results in much heartache, fear, and confusion in children being affected. The question here is: If a fatherless child grows into an adult, there will be various effects in their development of social relationships, depression and/or loneliness, and their future parental role. The social relationships that fatherless children will create in their lifetime may be different to those with both parents; depression and/or loneliness in a child after becoming fatherless or when the feeling is magnified by an experience is evident in the sources; and the style or the approach of parenting these fatherless children will apply on their own children one day may be also dissimilar to others who lived their whole lives with both parents. These three factors are only some of the broad overall effects fatherless children would experience; but by looking at these few factors one would become more knowledgeable and able to understand the “Effects in Fatherless Children.”

    Review of Literature

    Social Relationships

    These social relationships are relationships fatherless children will create outside their relationship with their fathers, for example similar aged friends, girlfriends/boyfriends, or even a male-role model that he/she relates to. Mackey (2007) of 21st centurary abstractly states that “Finally, it seems that there is a paucity of developmental theory, which can account for the generation lag between father preclusion and social problems” (p.111) He suggested that there seems to be likeliness for fatherless children of both sexes, who later have social problems such as making friends.

    Another author suggests that male-role models who fatherless children seek are hard to come by, as O'Hare clearly states “Boys who grow up in fatherless neighborhoods have few positive role models.” (p.60) An interesting complex that some authors went into details was that children who are fatherless is so starved of a male role-model, that they seek T.V to find their role model. Scull (1992) stated “As the father became less and less involved… he came to be replaced by the T.V model male” (p.) The male role-models Scull described were often aggressive, too masculine, and had a tendency to chase after girls. He went further on to say that these were a bad complex for a child to develop, because what they perceive to be man-like, they would actually become. Scull’s book suggested that these hungers for a father does not only stop at T.V model male, but is an on going deprivation. Scull (1992) stated “The father absent child may develop a more flexible image of men and at least may seek out some type of father surrogate” (p.) Unmistakably, the child’s lack of a positive male role model results in a form of hunger for them, that manifests itself into other social relationships.

    Another author introduced the topic of moral indexes for a fatherless child, who grows up to make other social relationships but their inability of understanding moral indexes creates a barrier against other groups of relationships. Biller (1993) stated quite blankly; “Father-absent boys consistently scored lower than those from two-parent families on a variety of moral indexes.” (p.) Throughout the research there were many statistic evidence of low score points in general for fatherless children, with this one being one of them. Biller ties in these moral indexes with the capability of making friends in the same age category, thus lower the scores; the lower chances of a fatherless child succeeding in other social relationships.

    Biller’s statement also ties into Mason’s (1994) statement; “father or equivalent absence magnifies the negative impact of peer problem behavior, while a positive mother-adolescent relationship attenuates this risk. A strong mother-adolescent relationship also served to protect adolescents in father-absent homes from the risk of peer problem behavior.”(p.723) Mason however, establishes a cure for the problem of social relationships; the child’s mother. In most ways mothers, the only true parent that the child is left with can become the remedy for the negative effects of being fatherless, and Mason realizes this significant feature.

    Depression and/or Loneliness

    A form of depression and/or loneliness after losing a father either by divorce, death or birth, is evident enough to state that it is a phase that a fatherless child must go through. However, some authors argue that it is not only a phase but an on-going syndrome that manifests itself on the individual, even after generations. Mackey (2007), one of such authors, states that “It is also suggested that when long-term relationships between a man--husband and a woman--wife fail to occur within a community that community is subject to a myriad of (reproductive) health and behaviorally related dysfunctions which occur a generation later.” (p.111(24)) These “behaviorally related dysfunctions” not only represents depression, but also the propensity of making bad choices in life.

    When a father becomes distant from a male child, by death, divorce, or lack of concern, Scull (1992) states “His individual male identity will then be too limited and confined by reactions to the father. This can lead to feeling of emptiness, depression, or open rebellion.” (p.) He also went on to state “While inadequate fathering may do damage to a daughter, it is more likely to wound a son and the wound is likely to be deeper and longer lasting.” (p.) This may be a bias quotation, but nonetheless true. A relationship between a father and their son is a sacred thing. Once lost, the hurt and damage is difficult to heal. Also, it is important to take into a consideration that even if a child may seem to be coping with the loss of their father, regardless of sex, the wound left behind is evident and does disappear easily.

    The direct effect of being fatherless to a child seems to be quite staggering, as Popenoe (1996) states “Eating disorders and rates of depression have soared among adolescent girls. Teen suicide has tripled. Alcohol and drug abuse among teenagers.”(p.18) These data was based from 1976 to present as he later states; “Reports of child neglect and abuse have quintupled since 1976, when data were first collected.” (p.18) Again, such disorders as eating disorder, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse are all in some factors, the offspring of depression, and it is evident in children who are fatherless.

    Future Parental Role

    Most fathers who have left their family leave behind a bad impression that may find its way into the child’s future parental role, as the academic journal The Futurist states; “About a third of absent fathers provide child-support payments, and that figure drops when the father was not married to the mother. And one study found that nearly half of all children living apart from their fathers had not seen them in the previous year.” (The Futurist, 1991, p.55) Such neglect from the father may form into an idea that it is “o.k” to treat children the way their fathers did because they were treated that way when they were children. Another surprising example that absent fathers leaves on their children is, as Popenoe (1996) states “Almost all of today's fatherless children have fathers who are alive, well, and perfectly capable of shouldering the responsibilities of fatherhood.” (p.12) If a child lived his/her entire life without a father to lean on, but knew that lived without a guilt in the world, what kind of example does that set up for the child? It would not be surprising if such behaviors from their fathers manifested itself into their own behaviors.

    Adults who grew up as fatherless children also has the statistical information that stands as a barrier to succeed, compared to adult who grew up in a household with both parents. Mackey (2007) stated “children--with their biological/ongoing father in residence--have higher cognitive skills, greater emotional stability and maturity, greater school achievements, and more security in their gender role than children raised without a father” Their ability to take on such a drastic responsibilities as a parent, is affected by how they were raised. Also the fatherless child who grew into an adult with a child of their own, not only has their mental deprivation to worry about, but also the physical resources needed to raise a child. O'Hare 1995 clearly states “Most of the 4.5 million children living in fatherless neighborhoods in 1990 were also living in poverty.”

    One author viewed children becoming fatherless more and more through time as more of a repeated failure. O’Hare (1995) stated “A recent study of young, absent fathers who are behind on their child-support payments found that most of them did not live with their own father at age 14.” Here, with evidence of research, he stated that the majority of fathers who do not support their own children grew up fatherless themselves.

    It seems a child who grew up fatherless has their work cut out for them if they want to become a parent themselves, with more evidences of adults repeating the mistakes their father made. However discouraging these sources are, one cannot help but hope for the unmentioned fathers out there who are just about the greatest fathers on their own term despite how they were raised. Epstein 1996 stated: “The most urgent domestic challenge facing the United States at the close of the twentieth century is the re-creation of fatherhood as a vital social role for men.” (p.)


    After much research and observation, it is apparent that there needs to be a better understanding of the various “Effects in Fatherless Children” to increase our knowledge and awareness of the children being affected. If a fatherless child grows into an adult, we now know that there will be various effects in their development of social relationships, depression and/or loneliness, and their future parental role. The key question now is, what can we do to minimize the negative symptoms as much as possible? In order to help make a difference within the fatherless child, this limitless transaction of divorces, separation, or neglect on children, must be struggled to be avoided. However there are remedies for the negative effects of being fatherless. A more stronger relationship of love between the child and the mother, an alternative male role model; a teacher for example, and recognizing the failure in their fathers to create a standard within themselves to become the best they can be, despite where they are from. It is not easy being a fatherless child; but fatherless should not mean helpless.

    List of References

    Mackey, W C (Wntr 1998). Father presence: an enhancement of a child's well-being. The Journal of Men's Studies. , 6, n2. p.227(17).

    Mackey, Wade C., and Ronald S. Immerman. "Fatherlessness by divorce contrasted to fatherlessness by non-marital births: a distinction with a difference for the community. (Author abstract)." Journal of Divorce & Remarriage 47.1-2 (March-April 2007): 111(24).

    O'Hare, William. "Life without fathers." American Demographics 17.n7 (July 1995): 60(1).

    Epstein, William M. "Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem." Society 33.n6 (Sept-Oct 1996): 89(2).

    Popenoe, David. "A world without fathers." The Wilson Quarterly 20.n2 (Spring 1996): 12(18).

    Mason, Craig A., Ana Mari Cauce, Nancy Gonzales, and Yumi Hiraga. "Adolescent problem behavior: the effect of peers and the moderating role of father absence and the mother-child relationship." American Journal of Community Psychology 22.n6 (Dec 1994): 723(21). Scull, C., et al. (1992). Fathers, Sons, and Daughters : Exploring Fatherhood, Renewing the Bond. New York: Putnam Publishing Group

    Biller, H. (1993) Fathers and Families United States of America: Auburn House